|Review of Dragon Age: Origins
||[Nov. 29th, 2009|06:45 pm]
|[||Frank is feeling
Dragon Age Origins is the spanky new roleplaying game from Bioware, makers of the classic Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Mass Effect. Personally, I loved Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, but Neverwinter Nights pissed me off a bit as it removed the party aspect to leave you with a single minion that was carefully programmed to do the stupidest thing at any given time. Mass Effect, on the other hand, was great, as a Star Trek-esque romp of shooting things and seducing attractive blue alien women.
So, I started up the game and made myself a male human mage, mainly because I have a complete lack of imagination but at least I thought I'd avoid being a bog-standard fighter for once. After dragging a million appearance-related sliding bars around I came out with the following, where Phadian the mage on the left:
It was well worth killing someone for my sweet furry shoulderpads
One of the novelties of Dragon Age is the addition of origin stories, which are effectively a unique bit of story and a few quests that occur before you get into the story proper. There are 6 of these, and the one I did complete (in the Circle of the Magi) was very good, and some of the characters introduced there then appeared later on in the game. It would be interesting to play through again to see what story differences there are with different origin stories and races.
Of course, at some point I decided it was highly entertaining to remove my armour and spend my time having serious conversations with people wearing only my pants. Just like real life!
I'll take this one... in my man panties...
Quite a few gaming aspects have been drafted in from Bioware's previous games, and in general these are the good ones. Like Baldur's Gate, you once again have proper control of your entire party, which is good, and can switch between your 4 party members and get them to do exactly what you want. This is highly necessary, as the AI itself is depressingly dreadful - I guarantee that you will spend a hell of a lot of time with your party on "Halt" mode, as your computer-controlled partners will, with absolutely no hesitation, run directly into the area of effect of the huge whirling tornado of fire that you've just cast if you do not. You will undoubtedly shout at the monitor multiple times "Nooo! Don't run there you stupid bastard!", but by that time the party member in question will already be on fire and doing what I have dubbed the "flame mosh"
You can set up a series of actions for each party member, such as "heal someone when they get below 50% hit points", and for things other than offensive mages these do work reasonably well. However, there isn't an AI option for "Only cast a fireball if it won't end up engulfing the entire party, you moron", which is reminiscent of the Baldur's Gate explosive arrows, the friendly death toll of which was only ever matched by the bouncing lightning traps.
As another example of ways that the AI is deficient, you can get a very handy control spell as a mage that imprisons a given enemy in an invincible shell for a while, allowing you to temporarily remove a boss from combat while you take care of his minions. Of course, your party will still try and run directly up to him/her and use all their special abilities while shouting "My weapon is useless!", forcing you to once again return to micro-management in order to get them to be useful. These are all issues that could and should have been fixed in the AI.
My other major bugbear (haha) is the camera control, which you often have to actively fight against in combat. You either have a top down-ish view which won't you scroll anywhere near enough (to, you know, let you target the mage that's blowing the shit out of you), or an over-the-shoulder camera which makes it hard to target enemies and area-effect spells, and nothing in-between. Also, the camera gets stuck on scenery a lot in built up areas (particularly Denerim) which can be highly frustrating. For such a gargantuan project, you think they could have put a few more man-days into this key aspect of the interface.
My last annoyance is the difficulty and frustration associated with some of the battles. Although putting long protracted battles can give a feeling of epicness, if the player fails towards the end then getting the motivation to start the whole thing again is a lot harder. The best exemplar of this is Final Fantasy 8, where I got to the final boss and fought against the damn thing for an hour, at which point it transformed into a different form and turned my entire party inside out by sneezing on me. I had no reason to believe exactly the same thing wouldn't happen again the next time, and I couldn't be bothered to play for a full hour just to give it another go. Epic battles should have save points. Although there's nothing as bad as that in Dragon Age, sometimes the larger battles (especially a particular one involving undead) did pass through challenging into god-awfully irritating. As in Baldur's Gate, there's also quite a few "Ooh, what's that? Oh, my entire party is dead" encounters.
OK, so that was all a bit of a moan, but generally the game does play very well, and the story makes up for a lot of the minor annoyances with the actual gameplay.
Oh wait, one more quick moan: where the fuck was all the lyrium dust in the world? I think I got 12 pieces over the entire course of the game, and it's the main component for one of the most important potions (mana restoration).
Like Mass Effect, you get a choice of love interests, although none of them really did anything for me here. Here, as a male you have the choice of an evil sorceress, a religious fanatic who hears voices or a gay elf. I didn't find any of them particularly enamouring, especially as the religious fanatic (the "good" choice) had the most annoying accent ever conceived combined with a lisp. She's also ginger. I ended up knocking up the evil sorceress anyway, but only on the condition that I didn't have to pay child support.
Some of the moral choices in the game are highly engaging, and there are some good twists in some of the quests. For the record, it's incredibly useful (perhaps a bit too useful) to max out the persuasion skill on your main character, as that means people will basically always do as you ask. It seems there is no random component in the skill checks in this sense, simply some kind of threshold, so you can pretty much guarantee success.
Overall, it was definitely worth playing through, and there is a lot of very good content in there, but a few aspects were quite disappointing given the standard I've come to expect from Bioware.